I just came across the following

From Bushisms to la langue François

Basically it is saying that Hollande is strange or out of the ordinary or annoying by his tendency to use the form

Est-ce que N V ...?

(as in 'Est-ce qu'il fait beau?') instead of the more (to that writer) acceptable question inversion

V N ...?

(as in 'Fait-il beau?').

But I learned high-school English in the American school system and, though we were taught both forms, we were told that 'Le syndrome « Es-Ke »' was the preferred usage.

(as a clarification, I am not asking about the pronunciation 'est ce que' vs 'es ke' but rather est-ce que vs inversion)

So which is it? What is the idea that 'est-ce que' is annoying in the president? Is it too informal (and the president is expected to speak more formally, using inversion)? Do native French speakers really not use it that much? Is this author just weird and being ironic? What is going on here? (I want to know if I should be avoiding 'est-ce que' or under what circumstances).

  • 1
    It's not about the pronunciation. My question is about which is preferred for making questions, 'est-ce que' or inversion? Or if one is preferred in certan contexts and not in other? or if this is just someone just complaining about the president?
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 3:40
  • 1
    Difficile de dire si le président est plus victime du syndrome des "est-ce que" que du syndrome DSK ^^ Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 8:29

3 Answers 3


I just read the article. I wanted those articles to be satire. But some of them seem to be getting really mad. Well, people tend to hate their president, whatever they do. It's not just France.

As you would know, there are several ways to ask questions in French.

Inversion (most formal): you invert the subject and verb of the sentence.

« Quel livre cherchez-vous ? »

Using est-ce que (less formal): to avoid inversion, you can you est-ce que.

« Quel livre est-ce que vous cherchez ? »

Raising the pitch (informal): you can choose to raise the pitch of an indicative sentence to make it a question. But it is considered colloquial and informal so it might not be suitable for formal situations.

« Vous cherchez quel livre ? »

I'm guessing the journalists are getting mad because they think since he's a president, he should use inversion which is the most formal.

  • 1
    I admit I'm bothered by the too many dislocations, but the use of Est-ce que sounds (in many cases) perfectly normal to me. I suppose you're guessing right. Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 8:48
  • So are you saying that 'est-ce que' is more informal than inversion? That is in contradiction to what Daniel said.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 16:28

In the author's sort of "pamphlet" (Hollande victime du syndrome « Es-Ke ») about using « est-ce que », he says : "[d]’autres personnalités ont été touchées par ce syndrome virulent[...]". Indeed:

Est-ce que tu connais la nouvelle ? Est-ce que la séance est finie ? - Est-ce que la fille de Mme Swann était à ce dîner ? / Est-ce que je perds la tête ? (Proust, Rech.)
Est-ce que le Mont-Blanc ne va pas se lever ? (Hugo, Lég.)
Est-ce que la littérature n'allait pas m'en détourner ? (Beauvoir, Mém. d'une jeune fille rangée)
En vertu de quoi est-ce qu'on nous en empêcherait ? (Musset, Lorenz.)
Qu'est-ce qu'on va penser de votre miel, abeilles ? (Hugo, Lég.)
Qu'est-ce que le monde a désormais à faire sous le ciel ? (Baudel, Journaux intimes)

[ extracts from quotes presented at article 397 in Le Bon Usage, Grammaire française, M. Grevisse et A. Goosse, aux ed. De Boeck/Duculot, 2001 ]

So it is arguably not a contemporary "syndrome"; furthermore usual doesn't mean weak:

À l'époque classique, est-ce que se trouve dans les genres les plus nobles[...] Le succès de est-ce que s'explique par le fait que cet introducteur permet d'indiquer dès le début de la phrase qu'elle est interrogative et par le fait qu'elle sauvegarde l'ordre sujet + verbe ; le français n'a cessé, en effet, depuis les origines, de réduire le nombre des inversions.

[ from H4 note, from article 397, see above ]

The form adds emphasis on the question early on, even phonetically; the trade off is it can become somewhat heavier, whereas the inversion is more concise - is it more sustained? I personally have never been taught to construe this in terms of register so I have no clue where this idea comes from. In some situations the former takes care of possible ambiguities or will be required. It's a tool for expression. Furthermore, Le bon usage explains the Académie supported such a use until 1987 where it started disapproving of it. But of what? Once again, Messrs. Grevisse and Goosse remind us here of the true nature of the Académie's "recent" opposition:

« On évitera d'associer cette locution [ = est-ce que ] à l'adverbe, au pronom ou à l'adjectif interrogatif. On doit dire Quand partirez-vous ? et non Quand est-ce que vous partirez ? À qui dois-je m'adresser ? et non À qui est-ce que je dois m'adresser ? » [...] Cette présentation des choses (maintenue en 2000-2001), qui ne distingue même pas l'écrit et l'oral, est pour le moins sommaire.

[from article 397, see above ]

The point is that as summary as a position could ever be, it is still geared at specifics, and doesn't constitute a sweeping critic of all use cases. A distinction has to be made between global and partial(those that trigger an answer different than yes/no) interrogations for instance, and the author of the article you refer to does not. Consider the following increasing "weight" so to speak:

Veux-tu danser ? non.
Est-ce que tu veux danser ?

Quand veux-tu danser ? Dans la semaine aux quatre jeudis
Quand est-ce que tu veux danser ?

Comment en est-il venu à s'échapper ? C'est une longue histoire...
Comment est-ce qu'il en est venu à s'échapper ?

As this becomes heavier, I personally find it more suited to speech for some reason, and I would not choose to write it unless I really wanted to. But to claim the global interrogation in the first example is not desirable simply because it starts with est-ce que, that's not summary, that's simplistic in my humble opinion. There may be a specific reason why Mr Hollande chose such a classical form when he did. Yet even with partial interrogations, Musset and others still used it. I can't see why someone couldn't do the same, especially with speech. I'm no expert but can't grasp what the fuss is really about: either it's a misunderstanding of what the Académie had stated(maybe someone knows of their position today on the issue, as the author alluded to some members committing l'irréparable), or it's about politics... I'd say most likely both!

  • What do you mean by 'heavy'? (I'm not familiar enough if that has a particular meaning beyond the literal 'having more weight') Do you mean more formal? or less? or something else?
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 22:49

The authors is being a bit overzealous saying people using "Es-ke" is a almost a plague to the French language. However, you expect the President to always use "Est-ce que". It is much more formal and proper.

Generally speaking, you should try to say "Est-ce que".

  • So are you saying that 'est-ce que' is more formal than inversion? That is in contradiction to what Chêne said.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 15:12
  • Are you sure this what he said? To me, "Est-ce que" is definitely more formal than "Es-ke". No doubt about it. Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 4:09
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    Daniel: my question is about 'est-ce que' vs inversion, not pronunciation. I see now that you are addressing a different and interesting question about 'est-ce que' vs 'es-ke'. I would expect 3 syllables only in extremely articulated speech. Are you saying that 3 syllables is common in everyday speech? Are you saying politicians in public interviews are expected to use 3 syllables?
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 14:44
  • 1
    absolutely not. I wish I could downvote.
    – njzk2
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 18:19

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